Mainland Greece often takes a back seat to summer travel to the myriad Greek islands scattered across the Aegean Sea; instead, it is a gem waiting to be discovered. Art, history, culture, and an awe-inspiring nature-the meteors are one example.
With this post I want to suggest an intense itinerary to discover both nature and classical Greece. It is an itinerary of 5 nights and 5/6 days depending on the flight schedules you manage to unearth.
Essential point is to rent a car. It is impossible to follow this itinerary by public transportation while staying within the same time frame. I am a big fan of the On The Road for this reason, precisely because they allow you to self-dictate your own time, travel and why not, even choose your own breaks.
I don’t like being forced to “say goodbye” to a place quickly. If a place pleases and satisfies me I must have the opportunity to enjoy it to the last. Along this itinerary there will be many moments when you will want to linger, one of them being the day at Meteors.
I will summarize all the useful information for organizing this tour in Greece, in the meantime take a look at this interesting 4-day tour in mainland Greece.
Mainland Greece tour: general aspects and costs
Total nights: 5
Flight to Greece: used the Milan Orio al Serio – Athens route with Ryanair both round trip. Euro about 60 round trip without checked baggage.
Car: rented with from Italy via Discover Cars Hire (CLICK HERE to see the Offers), a gasoline Volkswagen Polo from the company Goldcar. All perfect.
Greek areas covered: Athens, Meteora, Peloponnese
Car rental cost: 96 euros (including deductible limitation) + 25 euros additional driver. Total rental days 5.
Kilometers driven: 1150 approx
Fuel cost green gasoline: varying from 1.30 to 1.50 euro. In total spent 110 euros.
Road signs: I have to admit that it is not the best. The road signs in the villages are completely faded and sometimes it is hard to tell who has the right of way. Vertical signage is sometimes ambiguous. Parking lots, Athens aside, are mostly free but the color of the stripes is optional, often not even there.
Highway and bridge costs: very high! I would say more expensive than in Italy. Toll booths are directly on the highway, they are not on the exits. Sometimes you simply go about ten kilometers and have to pay figures of 2 euros to 4 euros. On the plus side, on this tour of mainland Greece the tolls will be relatively few because from Lamia onward it will be normal roads. The Patras Bridge has a mind-boggling price-to-length ratio, 13 euros for about 1 kilometer. The maximum speeds allowed on the highways vary from 90 to 130 depending on the section.
Driver’s license required: Italian driver’s license is fine, valid of course.
Hotel reservations: accommodations booked all from Italy using Booking.com. Being low season I found definitely nice hotels at cheap prices. All rooms were doubles and the price on 40 euros per night including breakfast. A special note for Hotel Pan in Delphi, which had a spectacular view of the bay.
Classical Greece and Meteors: 5-day itinerary
The days I had available were not 6, but 4 and a half because the flight from Milan Orio al Serio arrived at about 3 p.m. in Athens. Time to take care of the car rental paperwork and the departure from the Athens airport was at about 4:30 p.m. I will also preface by saying that the itinerary of this tour of mainland Greece was circular, from Athens to Athens. Initially I had planned an itinerary ending in Thessaloniki, but this would have entailed substantial expenses regarding the drop-off to return the car.
Day 1: Arrival in Athens, car rental and transfer to Meteors
From Athens to Kalambaka/Kastraki, the villages at the foot of the Meteors, is about a 4-hour drive with no stops. The first 200 km are highway and the sum of tolls is about 14 euros. The remaining 150 km are normal roads that sometimes become two-lane. In any case, the travel time is greatly reduced compared to highways.
If you can find a flight that lands in Athens in the morning, you will have much more time to get to Kalampaka and, why not, go right up to the Meteors to try to see them at sunset, which must be exceptional.
- Athens airport -> Kalambaka (Meteora): 353 km – 4 hours
Day 2: Visiting the Meteors -> Transfer and overnight in Delphi
I devoted the second day of this tour of mainland Greece to visiting the length and breadth of all the Meteors. The 6 still-open monasteries fascinated me and I photographed them from every angle, although the weather was not the best. I devoted 3/4 of my day to this natural paradise. Honestly I would have stayed an additional night to do some trekking as well but, you know, time is a tyrant and unfortunately I had to mediate for only one day.
I left Kalambaka for Delphi at 5 p.m. so as to arrive in the early evening in Delphi, ready for dinner and a comfortable bed. After a day up and down the steps of the Meteors, the mattress was quite satisfying. One must be careful that from Lamia onward the road becomes a succession of small “mountain passes” in the dark. I did it in the evening but if you prefer to do it in the light assume to leave much earlier.
I spent the night in Delphi at the Hotel Pan, I recommend it because it has a crazy view of the gulf.
- Kalambaka -> Delphi: 231 km -3 hours and 20 minutes (indicative, will be a little more)
Day 3: Visit to the archaeological site of Delphi -> Transfer and night in Nafplio
On the morning of the third day I visited the archaeological site of Delphi. Just a stone’s throw from the town stands this important site famous for its oracle and for once being considered the navel of the world. Indeed, this important icon of classical Greece is particularly interesting. It climbs the mountain from which there are spectacular views.
Seeing Delphi and the oracle took a good couple of hours, then I left for Nafplio via the Patras Bridge. As I mentioned a few lines above, the bridge is very expensive. 13 euros for a simple crossing. Unfortunately, one cannot do without it. To reach Nafplio, one skirts the sea almost to Corinth and then travels a few more kilometers of normal road to reach the beautiful seaside town before sunset. The town lends itself greatly to photographs.
- Delphi -> Nafplio: 307 km – 4 hours 30 minutes
Day 4: Visit Nafplio, Mycenae, Corinth -> Transfer and overnight in Athens
This was, and will be for you should you do the same tour as me in mainland Greece, a particularly dense and challenging day. Nafplio is very beautiful and the Palamidi fortress is absolutely worth seeing and discovering in every one of its towers. From Nafplio I moved on to Mycenae for a visit to the archaeological site, then on to Corinth, which is famous for its canal. Not only that, I recommend a tour of the Acrocorinth fortress from which you will see the whole coast.
The day ended in Athens after several kilometers on the highway. In my case I had planned to arrive in the Greek capital in the late afternoon, just enough time for a shower and a good dinner.
- Delphi -> Nafplio: 307 km – 4 hours 30 minutes
Day 5: Athens Full City Tour
Athens is the icing on the cake of this tour of mainland Greece; a city to be discovered completely on foot. I walked miles and miles around the Acropolis and I must say that I did not expect such a beautiful city.
What to see in mainland Greece: other possible detours
If you have more days available, Greece still offers so much to see both from the point of view of nature and from that relating to the lofty Greek history.
You could also include in the itinerary:
- Thermopylae: just before Lamia it would be interesting to visit the famous monument dedicated to the Battle of Thermopylae. An important page of Greek history was written at this place, a failure that gave moral strength to Greece to defeat the Persians. With very few men, Leonidas managed to hold the passage of Thermopylae for several days until the Persians were able to encircle him thanks to a tip from a local who pointed them to a further passage.
- Thessaloniki: the second Greek city. It is part of Thessaly and is not really on the itinerary I have given you. Should you have time, it would certainly be an interesting detour.
- Mount Athos: on the Chalkidiki peninsula, not far from Thessaloniki, is this mountain with monasteries on a par with the Meteors. The difference is that here women are not allowed to enter.
- The Zagorohoria area: I would have liked to have included it within my itinerary of mainland Greece. Unfortunately, it would have taken up an additional day, so I had to postpone it to a future trip. This is a very distinctive mountainous area. It consists of 46 still rural villages and stretches all the way to the border with Albania. It is not a place much traveled by mass tourism and that is precisely why I am so sorry I was not able to visit it. If you can absolutely go there.
- Olympia: Instead of going straight down to Nafplio, from Patras go to visit the place where the Olympic torch is lit every four years, a very important archaeological site of classical Greece.
- Monemvasia: In the deep south of the Peloponnese is another place I would have liked to have included in the tour of mainland Greece. Again, a full day needs to be devoted to it.
- Epidaurus: not far from Nafplio and Mycenae you can visit this other archaeological site. You will find the Theater of Epidaurus, famous moreover for having exceptional acoustics.